The call to find a cure for dementia (and in particular, Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common cause of dementia in Australia) has become increasingly urgent in recent years, as we have started to realise just how great an impact the condition has had on our increasing elderly population.
It is not simply because it has become the biggest cause of disability in Australian people aged over 65 years, with over 350000 people living with the condition at the present time. And it’s not just because this figure is expected to rise exponentially over the next 30 years that finding a cure is important.
Those figures are startling enough on their own, but when you begin to peel back the layers and examine the implications on society, on communities, and on individuals, then the need for a cure and some high quality strategies for managing people who are living with the condition becomes even greater.
At an individual level – for the people who have dementia, there are issues relating to anxiety, stigma, social isolation, dependency, and helplessness that make having the condition very challenging. Increasingly, people in the early stages of a diagnosis are reporting a sudden and increasing isolation from family and friends that they formerly saw more frequently. Often, people are afraid of what it means to have Alzheimer’s and they begin to remove themselves from loved ones who have the disease. More is said in the media about how devastating later-stage dementia can be, than about how people can continue to live full lives during the earlier stages. Consequently, fear and anxiety is felt by both those with the dementia, and their extended social circle.
More research and publicity around how people with dementia can continue to enjoy a full life is vital and will help the wider community to understand that it is not always, or not immediately a tragic diagnosis.
Research leading to a cure and improved management of the condition is also vital because it will ease the burden on carers and support services – it is estimated that about 1.2 million people are involved in caring for people with dementia in Australia. Caring for a person with dementia can become a stressful and lonely job – as isolating for carers as it is for the person who has the condition. Further support from services such as Platinum Healthcare are a valuable resource but often underutilised due to a lack of awareness.
On a national level, finding a cure and better management solutions is important because, as dementia prevalence increases, so too will the cost of care through government subsidies and provision of equipment and home adaptations. The demand for a cure becomes greater as the condition’s burden on our nation’s taxes grows heavier.
As yet it is uncertain whether lifestyle changes will reduces one’s chances of developing dementia, although much research does point in that direction. Treatments have been long in use that will slow its progress, and numerous therapies exist that help to strengthen cognitive ability. However, nothing has yet reached the open market that will reverse the effects of the disease, and only time will tell if some preliminary findings in animal experiments will have the same effects in humans.